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This blog was originally created to showcase my photography. That kinda stopped happening. Shooting (guns and images) is still my passion, but I'm a writer at heart, so that seems to dominate, regardless of what I try to do.

Sorry.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Some Thoughts on Texas A&M - More of a Rant

As my time here at A&M is winding down, I've been thinking a lot about what's been the most important to me, besides the degree. A&M is all about tradition, and that was one of my biggest draws. My grandfather (c/o 1941) loved his school and instilled that same pride in me at a very young age, despite my decision to attend a different university the first time around.

That being said, it leads me into a few things that have made me immensely unhappy.

1) The seemingly-constant "tear down, rebuild" mentality. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, but ever since I've been a student here, old buildings have been demolished in favor of new construction. Cain Hall, for example, had a pretty interesting history in its usage. The university decided to take it down - for reasons I'll get to in another bullet - and maybe it wasn't a terrible thing, but it seemed as if there were other options available to keep it intact. But, no...there was a greater motivation behind it. At any rate, a remodel would have sufficed, in my opinion. Perhaps it was too choppy inside to accommodate the Student Services that had moved in, but it was easily accessible to all who needed it. Next, Bizzell Hall. Built in 1918, it had fantastic architecture. Absolutely beautiful. In fact, Student Services had been moved to Bizzell after Cain was taken out. But now it's gone. Instead, they're going to erect a $43M monstrosity that is to serve as the Student Services building - in 2020. They've been relocated for a second time, to be discussed in a minute.

2) Whether it's due to a lack of maintenance, disease (due to lack of maintenance) or making way for more construction, they're chopping down trees left and right on Main Campus. The remaining empty planters and flowerbeds are barren and look terrible now. I know they used to have all the trees tagged for surveying and data collection, but I've been told by forestry students that the whole program has fallen to the wayside.

3) Student Services was moved to the White Creek area of West Campus. In temporary buildings. With no parking whatsoever and impossibly-complicated change-over bus rides get to it. The specific office you're looking for is hard to find (mostly because they all look alike) and they're not listed on the online campus map. The actual assistance available from Student Services is a joke to begin with, but that's a different rant. You know what? I'll deal with that now.

4) Student Services is useless. They triage students into "Crisis, Urgent, and Routine" categories. While I agree that crisis intervention should be immediate - and it is - trying to get a student with issues to decide whether they're urgent or routine is just cruel. Pretty much everything is urgent when it comes to mental health care, in my opinion, and especially when you're dealing with college kids. The website states that, for routine care, a waiting period of 10 - 15 days to even get scheduled is normal. However, when I visited their site to see if I could schedule an appointment, I was met with this disclaimer: "We are in a time of the semester when we are at or above capacity for the number of students we are able to see in a given week. Our wait time to be seen for an initial appointment may be 4 or more weeks away." Basically, if you're not already in the system, you're screwed. A&M is constantly trying to prove (to themselves?) that they're on top of things in the way of student care, and it's bullshit. And posting a ton of links for self-help isn't helping.

5) Cain was removed in order to build a full-service hotel and conference center, a new parking garage, and an elevated walkway over to Kyle Field. Like many things going on with A&M these days, it's all about the money. And Old Ags obsessed with our football = money. According to The Eagle newspaper, "The 250,000-square-foot project is planned to include a full-service restaurant and bar, 1,000 square feet of retail space, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, an outdoor event area, a 650-seat ballroom and more than 28,000 square feet of conference and meeting space. The eight-floor hotel will have 250 rooms -- 237 standard rooms, eight standard suites, three hospitality suites and two deluxe suites. Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs Phillip Ray said room costs still are being determined." Opinions on this development vary, but it seems as if most students are against it. But They don't care what students want. They want what's going to bring in the big bucks. Some will say this has everything to do with our SEC status.

6) New agriculture department offices were built behind AGLS on West Campus. A set of twins. New, shiny, modern...with offices of the exact same size as where the staff and faculty came from. I'm all for modern, efficient buildings, but I refuse to believe there wasn't some way an architect could have designed something that fits in with the traditional culture A&M has possessed since its inception. That goes for AGLS as well. Access to HFSB and other adjacent buildings has been blocked off by construction for yet another modern monstrosity to the tune of $49M, to be completed in 2019. It will hold plant pathology and microbiology labs. While I see the value in expanding the square footage of the teaching/lab/research facility, it's just another building that looks like it should be in downtown Houston. Is my rant solely focused on aesthetics? Not entirely. During this construction, they have removed about 1/4 of the parking spaces from Lot 74, which was already hard to park in and, in the process, removed half of the handicapped spots, pushing them back a considerable distance from the buildings. The chain link fence also blocks off a few sidewalks with easy handicapped access. It's also taken out several rows of the adjacent Lot 97, which happens to be my lot, and it's much harder to find a parking space. The email I got notifying me of this inconvenience informed me that I should plan ahead and arrive early in case I need to park in Lot 100 - the giant catch-all lot surrounding Reed Arena. I didn't pay for a Lot 97 pass to be parking in Lot 100 which is typically full anyway. 

7) West Campus is the side of A&M that's left behind. If you want to know about any events going on around campus, you'd better plan on going to the MSC every week, or you'll miss out. Signage of upcoming events are plentiful there, but nothing current is set up anywhere on West Campus, except for a few A-frame signs outside of the West Campus Library advertising ongoing programs. Wanna get involved in a charitable event? You'll never know it's happening unless you end up at the MSC. Traditional events, such as the annual Elephant Walk, were only promoted on Main Campus. I missed the one designated for my class year, and I missed the one for the new seniors although I graduate in December. Campus-wide emails are sent out for every possible cultural inclusion seminar you can think of, but for Aggie traditions such as Elephant Walk or Ring Dance, you're on your own, apparently, unless you happen upon a sign - again - only around the general area of the MSC. Wanna buy a t-shirt for an organization or event that you somehow managed to find out about? Gotta go to Main Campus - multiple locations. But never anywhere on West Campus.

8) Student organization meetings and campus events are never announced in time to actually plan to attend. It's a regular occurrence for me to get an email for something I'm interested in going to, only to find out that it's scheduled for the very next day or, in many cases, the same day. For students who are encouraged to form study groups and meetings with professors and trying to stick to a schedule for studying or whatever, that's annoying. I can't just tell the members of my group project that I won't be showing up in two hours because there's a Salary Negotiation Workshop I really need to attend. Tell me a week ahead of time and, yeah, we can work something out. And, before you ask, no, there is no online calendar anywhere that tells you about these upcoming events. If there were, I wouldn't be complaining.

9) West Campus is left behind in many other ways as well. Innovative water bottle refill stations have even been installed in some of the oldest buildings on Main Campus, but nothing on our side. This is rather ironic to me, considering that West Campus is home to the environmental, ecological, agricultural, and sustainability programs at our school.

10) The Student Writing Center, Success Center, and Career Services are jokes as well. None have been helpful to me whatsoever and, in two cases, I have even been denied assistance. The writing center is staffed with students enrolled in liberal arts classes - go figure - and cannot assist with scientific or technical writing at all. The Career Center staff was less than helpful and just wanted me to take advantage of their online services rather than actually help in person. They literally told me that all the resume assistance I needed was online, if by "assistance" you mean templates for three generic resumes and one cover letter. When I was looking for a summer job, they told me to use an online resource and basically hung up, leaving me to try to wade through all the confusing links that led to nothing more than yet another information page by myself.

With all of that out of the way, I would still say that there is no other school I would rather have attended. I love Texas A&M, its traditions, its culture, its history...even if the administration is trying to make it into a much bigger university than it should be. Our traditions and background are slowly fading away with each passing year as a record number of freshmen arrive. It's a hard phenomenon to explain, and I wish I had the words, but it's just a matter of too many people who aren't embracing everything A&M stands for. They're just going to school to be a student, not necessarily an Aggie, if that makes any sense. Not a majority, but the Aggie Spirit is slowly getting watered down.

Maybe I say all of this because I'm a total red-ass. While I could never afford a student sports pass, I've participated in as many traditional events as possible. I know the Yells. My phone's ringtone is the Aggie War Hymn. My wardrobe is 80% maroon. I haven't even graduated yet and I've already donated to the Century Club. I bought a brick for my grandfather that was placed outside the Corps Center. I'm one of the first people to throw my arm around the stranger next to me on the bleachers (or anywhere else, really) and saw 'em off. No, I didn't attend every Midnight Yell, Silver Taps, tailgate, Muster, or Bonfire, but I did go as often as I could. 

As I walk through Main Campus, I imagine my grandfather walking those same sidewalks between buildings, hurrying off to lecture and trying to balance his classes and Corps responsibilities. I imagine him walking the halls of some of the same buildings I've been in. I picture him out on Simpson Drill Field. I have an emotional connection to this university and perhaps I'm letting that cloud the bigger picture, but I can't help it. 

Change in all things in inevitable. Perhaps I just need to be thankful that I was an Aggie Student when A&M was still what it was meant to be (although some will argue that disappeared awhile back). I will always fondly look back on my time here with wistful memories, from before A&M morphed itself into the mega-college I have no doubt it will become in time. Either way, there's no place I'd rather be. But the important thing here is that I AM an Aggie for life, and that's what I've always wanted.

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